February 26, 2020

Heavy Drinking Causes Lasting Brain Changes in Teens
If levels are lowered due to alcohol exposure, then the brain will not develop normally…”

~ Dr. Subhash Pandy, PhD, Director, Center for Alcohol Research in Epigenetics, University of Illinois at Chicago

Scientists have long known that drinking during adolescence creates lasting changes in the still-developing brain. Now, new research has found that some of these are the result of  chemical changes within the amygdala, the part of the brain associated with emotion regulation, fear, and anxiety.

Affecting a Specific Protein

Researchers examined post-mortem brain tissue obtained from the New South Wales Brain Tissue Resource Center in Sydney, Australia. The specimens were divided into three groups:

  • Early-onset drinkers: Started drinking heavily before the age of 21
  • Late-onset drinkers: Started drinking seriously at age 21 or older
  • Individuals with no history of Alcohol Use Disorder

Of note, early-onset drinkers died an average of four years earlier than those drinkers who waited until they were 21 or older.

Compared to those without AUD and even late-onset drinkers,  people who drank before 21 had 30% to 40%  less of the protein BDNF, a growth factor that is critical for brain synapse formation and maintenance. Dr. Pandy said, “BDNF is needed for normal development in the brain and for connections to form between neurons.”

As a result, explains Dr. Pandy, these changes “…can alter the normal function of the amygdala, which helps regulate our emotions, and may cause individuals to be more susceptible to things like anxiety,or the development and maintenance of alcohol use disorder later in life.”

The Many Dangers of Underage Drinking

The UIC research dovetails seamlessly with other research showing just how truly hazardous drinking is to the not-yet-matured underage brain and body.

  • It reduces the size of the hippocampus. This is part of the brain responsible for memory and learning.
  • It shrinks the prefrontal lobe. This is the part of the brain associated with language, impulse control, decision-making, judgement, and planning.
  • It causes the brain to age faster.
  • It can cause malnutrition and vitamin deficiency.
  • It increases the risk of many forms or cancer.
  • It is the leading cause of serious liver disease.
  • It is a major contributing factor for anxiety.

What Does This Mean to You and Your Family?

Heavy drinking can be a serious problem at any age. It is even more so for underage drinkers. And in addition to the brain changes, the co-occurrence of AUD and anxiety can complicate successful recovery from either.

That’s why families in crisis because of a teenager with AUD and any other behavioral disorder need specialized expert professional care. And if you love in Southern California, the trusted resource you need is Teensavers Treatment Centers.

As the most-trusted alcohol treatment program for teenagers in Orange County, Teensavers offers a unique evidence-based recovery services that gives your troubled teen their best chance to heal—mind, body, and spirit.

If you need help, contact Teensavers TODAY

Teensavers—“Transforming Lives…”

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